[Review] NCT 127 has a lot going on in “Punch”

It seems like just yesterday that NCT Dream unveiled their newest mini album. The “Neo Zone” sure has been prolific lately, with member Haechan participating in a comeback each month since March. “Punch” arrives as a repackaged title track to NCT 127’s second full-length, and expands on their abrasive hip-hop sound. In doing so, the song pairs multiple generations of SM Entertainment producers, merging the timeless composition skills of in-house talent Kenzie with the more experimental arrangements of U.S.-based Dem Jointz. The result will likely be polarizing, as many 127 tracks are. There’s a lot going on here, and some moments are more successful than others.

Right off the bat, I’m drawn to the instrumental’s fuzzy electro backbone. It’s incredibly refreshing to hear a different set of sonic elements — especially when nearly every K-pop boy group has been working from the same musical palette this year. Of course, this being 2020, “Punch” soon incorporates a generous dose of trap. It would have been stronger (and more cohesive) if it had stuck to its electronic, Tron-like aesthetic. Still, bursts of excitement pop up here and there. I love the touches of electric guitar that pepper the song’s second half, and the climax builds to a rousing, stadium-ready finale.

Unfortunately, there are also segments that just kind of fizzle out. In particular, the second verse feels like it’s going nowhere. “Punch” is more fragmented than I would’ve liked, and a robust infusion of melody would have given it an enticing through line. Instead, the guys throw around a lot of tough-guy rap (much of it whispered!) and aimless crooning. And though the chorus is fun in a silly way, its murky pre-and-post-chorus segments miss the mark by not opting for more memorable refrains. Still, most of NCT 127’s odder title tracks have a way of growing with time. I’m reasonably confident this will do the same.

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IATFB says: I actually enjoyed the polarizing parts the most, which is stuff like that retro arcade-game squiggle. I just didn’t find the rest of it all that interesting or catchy. They threw a lot at the wall, which can work if things hit, but little of it stuck this time.

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